Please Look After Mom

Book cover for Please Look After MomPlease Look After Mom
Kyung-Sook Shin
translated from the Korean by Chi-Young Kim

It seems I’ve read several books lately with overlapping themes and plot points. Gone Girl dealt with the disappearance of a wife and a husband who worked as a writer. Where’d You Go, Bernadette? was about a missing wife and mother, told through recreated emails and letters and other documents. Wife 22 wasn’t about anyone going missing, but the wife in question is having an interesting online correspondence with an unidentified online researcher, and they message and email back and forth. Plus the wife is a playwright. In Please Look After Mom, Mom is missing, lost during a train transfer in busy Seoul, South Korea. One daughter is a writer.

A major theme in all of these works is the question – how well do we know those closest to us? Can we know them? If they are absent, either literally or emotionally, do we know enough about them to bring them back?

The first part of Please Look After Mom is told from the perspective of one of Mom’s daughters, Chi-hon. Chi-hon realizes that she always thought of her mother just simply as Mom. She lacked an identity as Son-yo, as a person beyond one who provides for the needs of her family. Chi-hon and her mom do not always get along, in fact, they often clash. They don’t talk all that often. When they do, they often argue. When her mother disappears, Chi-hon is desperate to find her, wanting to make up for the ways that she treated her poorly. This is a common theme as the book progresses. Family took mom for granted, now she’s gone, they are worried they can never tell her things they always wanted to.

Chi-hon’s section was my favorite part of the book. Recently, I’ve been thinking about where my mother was when she was my age. I look back and realize that not only did she have a five year old kid (me!), but she would have been a year into her second marriage. Our lives are so different, it’s really incredible. It seems like there is something about becoming a mother that pushes that role and identity to the forefront, while other aspects of your person fade away. I don’t know if it’s just me getting older, or what, that is making me think about these things. I could also relate to Chi-hon’s struggle to have a cordial relationship with her mother and other family members. I mean, I have to maintain a professional demeanor at work, which I do pretty much without a problem, but get me around a stressful family situation and I can feel myself slipping back into petulant twelve year old girl mode. It’s not cute.

Well! Please Look After Mom is a solid book, definitely worth the read.

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